There’s no reason to believe the war in Afghanistan, now in its 16th year, is moving in the right direction. NBC News had a good report last week on Donald Trump’s growing frustration over the state of the conflict, his team’s inability to produce a strategy he approves of, and his willingness to replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser and a three-star general, appears to be doing his best to answer Trump’s questions and guide his hand through the process. The Washington Post reports, however, that one of McMaster’s challenges is keeping Trump’s attention and focus.
Among his biggest challenges was holding the attention of the president. In classified briefings, Trump would frequently flit between subjects…. Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan’s history, its complicated politics or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span on the subject, said senior White House officials.
“I call the president the two-minute man,” said one Trump confidant. “The president has patience for a half-page.”
Did I mention that we’re talking about the longest war in American history? And the amateur president’s uncertainty about how best to proceed?
If it seems like this keeps happening, it’s not your imagination. The Associated Press reported in May, “At NATO and the Group of 7 summits, foreign delegations have gotten word that the new U.S. president prefers short presentations and lots of visual aids.”
That came on the heels of a Reuters report, which noted that U.S. officials who provide Trump with security briefings try to accommodate “a president with a short attention span” by adding maps and graphics in order to keep him engaged.
The same article quoted National Security Council officials who said they strategically reference Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned.”
Otherwise, presumably, his attention turns elsewhere.
It’s worth pausing from time to time to appreciate the fact that Donald Trump is a grown man who happens to have the world’s most difficult job.
Trump has more than a few unfortunate qualities that make him ill-suited for the presidency, but we’re probably overdue for a national conversation about his toddler-like attention span.